Saturday, 1 February 2014
TPE 7: ACTS 2 - Confession, or 'Owning up'
'Confession' has two distinct meanings. The first is the one you are probably most familiar with - owning up to what you've done wrong. Normally, this includes saying sorry, and promising to try not to do it again - though we all know that is a promise we often don't keep! Most church services include a 'confession'. This is a time when the whole church congregation says sorry to God for not living up to the standard of human life that the Bible and Jesus' life set out for us.
The second meaning is again 'owning up', but this time to our faith. Standing up for what we believe in. We often literally stand up for what we believe in, as everyone stands to say a Creed (from the Latin 'credo', meaning 'I believe'), or other statement of faith: a short summary of what the church believes about God.
Confession is the second element of the ACTS pattern of prayer. In our personal prayers, the very fact that we are praying is a 'confession' of sorts. We are 'confessing' that there is a God who hears and answers prayers, just by praying at all. So in our personal prayers we don't very often say a formal 'statement of faith'. But for as long as people have been praying, owning up to what we've done wrong has been an important part of prayer.
I wonder what you think this owning up achieves? God, of course, already knows everything that we have done. So by owning up, we aren't letting God into a secret that we could otherwise keep to ourselves. It's not like telling your mum that it was you that broke that plate, when she thought it was probably the cat! But God seems to like us to admit what we are doing wrong. (Even if your mum knew perfectly well it was you that broke the plate, she is likely to be pleased with your honesty if you own up). Why?
Well, if we don't own up to what we are doing wrong, we can't change it. If we pretend that there is nothing at all wrong with how we are living our lives, then we are saying we don't intend to change anything. Sometimes we don't want to own up to things that are wrong because we are ashamed or embarrassed. But if we make a practice of regularly admitting that everything isn't perfect, we can help ourselves to focus on what changes we'd like to see.
This isn't because Christians are miserable, but the opposite! Even for those who wouldn't call themselves Christian, it is a really important part of any spirituality or self-improvement programme. No athlete gets to the top of their game by deciding they are so good there is nothing they need to work on, and the same applies to all of our lives.
Get some stones (gravel, stones from the garden, or even twigs or leaves, or maybe coins). Have at least 3, and up to say 6 or 7. Put a bowl of water in front of you, and the stones in a pile. Sit down, and pick up the first stone. As you hold it, think about one thing that is not as good as it could be in your life. Own up to it. Then put the stone into the water: you are giving it to God, not holding its weight any longer. And it is being washed clean. Pick up the next stone and think of something else, and repeat as many times as seems right. When you have finished, you might like to end by simply saying 'Amen', or you could repeat this traditional prayer: 'Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.'
[A health warning: It is really important, when you confess as part of your private prayers, to remember that confession and God's forgiveness go together. One of the things Christians believe about Jesus's death on the cross is that as he died, he took all the blame for anything we might do wrong. So we don't confess because otherwise God won't like us: God has already forgiven us. If, when you pray, you find that you still feel guilty after confessing, and you can't shake off a feeling that God didn't mean to forgive you, then please go and talk about this to someone you trust from church, perhaps your vicar or youth worker.]